When some 60,000 men gather in a rural area for a Christian-themed event, my senses begin twitching. Not only the number but the exclusive gender sent alarm-bells chiming in discord. This happened in April 2008 and it was/is called, disgustingly, the “Mighty Men” conference. Held at Greytown, here in my country South Africa, men – and only men – flew from all around the world to see the preaching of a man in a hat. (At one point, the largest tent in the world was used. Yes – in the world!)
His name is Angus Buchan. He first came to prominence after the release of his book, followed by a movie, entitled Faith Like Potatoes. As the IMDB plot-summary says:
Angus Buchan, a Zambian farmer of Scottish heritage … leaves his farm in the midst of political unrest and racially charged land. [He] travels south with his family to start a better life in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. With nothing more than a caravan on a patch of land, and help from his foreman, Simeon Bhengu, the Buchan family struggle to settle in a new country. Faced with ever mounting challenges, hardships and personal turmoil, Angus quickly spirals down into a life consumed by anger, fear and destruction. Based on the inspiring true story by Angus Buchan the book was adapted for the big screen … and weaves together the moving life journey of a man who, like his potatoes, grows his faith, unseen until the harvest
He began giving talks and preachings across the country soon after. As he told The Argus:
“God gave me a directive to turn fathers back to sons and sons back to fathers, to take back the family unit.”
Although he has been asked why there was no conference for women, he said his directive had been to challenge men to stand up and be counted: “To be prophet, priest and king. They must be the breadwinners, protect their wives and discipline their children.”
“God gave me…” – Yes, we have someone else who has a red-phone connection to god. The number 60,000 is quite staggering. Apparently, 80% of the men who attended were Afrikaners which only makes sense. There is a high religiosity amongst the Afrikaner people here in South Africa, of a particular conservative kind. I know quite a number and have been to church services – the passion runs deep to engage with their lord. They are friendly, open people neither racist nor stupid but certainly very isolated from having a figure that represents them on an international level. They have found that in Buchan.
Buchan himself is often shown to be the epitome of an Evangelical Afrikaner: friendly, passionate, warm and very conservative in his beliefs. To say that the Afrikaner people – or Christian people in general – are clutching at straws would be nearer the mark given his statements and views.
Call me paranoid, but I’m wary of anyone who speaks or knows something about the monotheist god that I do not. Or rather, I’m mortified by someone who has a real-time feed to god’s consciousness.
Buchan, in July, drew an audience of 70,000 people at Loftus (also in South Africa). He tapped into iGOD and was able say: “God is here. The Lord is here” (3). The resounding cries of “AMEN!” could shake the fabric off any veil of reason.
Not only were over 70,000 people crying their hearts and eyes out, the event “was also broadcast live to about 500-million people around the world on GOD TV, one of the world’s largest Christian television networks.” (3) We are not dealing with small fish here. There was nothing particularly new, enlightening or incredible about Buchan – except for his readings of the Bible that sees the lowering of women to be “looked after” by the husbands and for the “discipline of children”.
Not a week ago, he was in my city of Cape Town defiling the air with nonsense. According to Buchan, prayer has cured homosexuality, illness and depression. I have problems with saying “prayer” does anything let alone “cure”. Let us avoid that and say rather a “positive outlook” cured the illness and depression (I don’t know one way or the other if prayer has ever had an effect but so far the view is still zero, alongside the Loch Ness Monster and fairies). Curing is great. But what on earth does he mean by “curing” homosexuality?
I find it hard to fathom that these talks, which he’s still giving around my country, is based on logic like this. This is an insult to reason and humanity. What is more insulting is the lack of rationalist critique. We are a fragile nation, prone to acts of violence against ourselves. We’ve seen it recently in our mad xenophobic attacks, our change of power – its a soil teeming with uncertainty. As I said, when someone like Buchan comes along, exuding confidence, Christianity and conservativeness, you have an engine roaring to go. The Buchan machine is moving through the country and, with his nonsense spewing out, he is continuing to defile the air.
Harsh? Hostile? Yes. I’ve never presented myself otherwise to a decent person’s reasoning. I’m angry not at Buchan – he can keep his views. I am angry, upset and largely disappointed that he is having sell-out shows. I am upset that no one is taking notice of people who are no doubt longing for some answers to our confused place in history. Where do we go, what do we do, who do we learn from? Our future president Jacob Zuma is drowning in a sea of corruption charges, fighting sharks invisible and real who are rightly placed to point their fingers at his abuse of justice.
I will now take the fallacy of the straw man quite literally.
The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of “reasoning” has the following pattern:
1. Person A has position X.
2. Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
3. Person B attacks position Y.
C. Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.
This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person.
I have focused on his statements and shown the context in our volatile, fragile and somewhat desperate and desparate nation. But perhaps it serves a motif: All these people are clutching at straws and Buchan is that strawman.
He stands for racial equality and integration (speaking fluently in one of the many beautiful official languages in South Africa). But he misses the boat by relying in Bible (il)logic. This will not do. We must make a stand for reason, we must face the teeth of superstition with the hammersmack of logic. We are not so far gone as reasonable, decent people to invoke this man as a pathway to the numinous. We all long for the numinous and the transcendent. Religion’s usurpation of this longing, framed in the light to the “one god”, is relentless in using this as an undertow to a natural wanting. No more.
It matters not that the feelings expressed tapped into something. Remain at a cold-distance to those who know the mind of god and claim to cure homosexuality. Rather, we should remain sceptical of his approach until such time as he has given us reason to be other than suspicious of his rehashed, evangelical ramblings.